Monday, July 28, 2008

Guilty Pleasures and the Two-Track Mind

I'm guessing most of the people who read this blog would classify themselves as writers of "serious" fiction and they may, by default, also be "serious readers." And 'serious' can mean several things - enlightening, poignant, thought-provoking, and (at its most watered down state) educational. Chekhov is serious fiction. So is Welty and Bellow and Hemingway - we all know the list.

And yet, I know more than a few "serious" writers who often indulge in literary fiction's step-siblings. That would be:
Westerns (???)
Young Adult (or a percentage of)
and what have you.

I will out myself right now and admit that I have read a book...or two...of Indian chick-lit. These books are frivolous, unrealistic, hackneyed, and they come with pretty covers featuring clothing and shoes that no "serious" writer could ever afford. Their benefit comes from the fact that absolutely zero brain cells are required to read them. Oh - and, though it hurts to admit it, they're entertaining. As readers, I think many of us can claim to have dual personalities - we may dip in and out of genres as we please.

But what about as writers?

Which brings me to the point of this whole entry - an article in today's Washington Post that profiles John Banville, an Irish author who won the Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. An earlier book, The Book of Evidence, was shortlisted for the Booker in 1989. Banville is, by all accounts, a writer of serious fiction.


He's got an alter-ego, a pen name, another writing personality who is named Benjamin Black and who writes thrillers. And while John Banville can take years to finish one of his novels, Benjamin Black finishes writing in months.

Is this so different from the fiction writer who pens travel or food articles on the side? Or the newspaper columnists who transform their experiences into psuedo-fiction? Which form of writing is catharsis for the other? And if a writer of literary fiction also writes genre fiction, does that automatically make his/her genre novel more worthy than a novel from a writer who ONLY pens genre fiction?

And what about the differences in plot?

Read the article. And let me know what you think.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Congrats Alexis

Alexis Santi has new work up at Word Riot. CHECK IT OUT.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Midsummer Cheryl's Gone

What: Cheryl's Gone reading series

When: Thursday July 17, 8:00 pm

Where: Big Bear Cafe: 1st and R NW, Washington, DC

The lineup:
Reb Livingston, poet and editor of No Tell Books
Adam Robinson, founding editor of Publishing Genius
Strip Mall Ballads, aka Phillips Saylor Wisor, songwriter of the Shiftless Rounders
Kyle G. Dargan, poet, creative writing MFA faculty at AU, and founding editor of Post No Ills

Looks like a great night! Have fun, folks!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Poet Pubs

Congratulations to poets Robb St. Lawrence and Wade Fletcher ('08), who have had recent acceptances for their work: Robb heard from A Public Space and Wade from Barrelhouse.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Questions of Good Taste and Practice

“Oh, it’s just like everything else, dear. Practice, practice.”
—Cyd Charisse, on how she was able to dance in high heels

Once upon a time, publishers Charles and James Ollier put out a book that elicited the equivalent of a great fat public raspberry. So the Olliers wrote to the author’s brother:
We regret that your brother ever requested us to publish his book, or that our opinion of its talent should have led us to acquiesce in undertaking it. . . . By far the greater number of persons who have purchased it from us have found fault with it in such plain terms, that we have in many cases offered to take the book back rather than be annoyed with the ridicule which has, time after time, been showered upon it.
Never mind that the book they trashed, Poems, included this and this. Fortunately for us, the author, John Keats, had friends like Leigh Hunt and Percy Bysshe Shelley to encourage him and, more important, his own good taste and a belief in his poetry (at least enough to carry on).

Keats didn’t have nearly the time Ira Glass has in mind (thanks Mike), but Glass’s point—that those who create tend to have good taste, and that artists should keep trying until their taste and ability meet—well, it’s a variation on a wise theme, and it’s well said.

And although this well-established poet (e.g.), in his response to a form rejection letter, makes some valid arguments, a look at UMD professor and poet Stanley Plumly’s new biography, Posthumous Keats (and the New Yorker review of it) just might encourage anyone faced with rejections (e.g.), bad reviews, and other such fun to move on and get back to work. Tout de suite.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

'From Laura's Pocket Guidebook to the Americas'

Congratulations to Laura Scott, who has a piece in the latest online issue of Hobart.

Go here to read it.

Do Not Read While Operating Heavy Machinery

Ah! Everywhere you look, someone strikes up the doom gong and dirge about reading. And okay, the NEA has empirical proof. An interesting review of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain[1] in the New Yorker late last year mentioned the not-new-but-fascinating-if-troubling concept of a “secondary orality” in place of a literate society. And here comes Wendell Berry, straight from his Kentucky farm, offering his contrarian pearls of wisdom untouched by television or YouTube, in a terrific (even if you think Berry is a Luddite) interview in The Sun. (Thanks Cliff.) But these articles feed a pugnacious hope. If Jared Diamond’s book Collapse[2] didn’t suffice as an argument why literate cultures are kind of a good idea, they add to the heft. And you have to love Berry for saying, “If you’ve lost the capacity to be outraged by what’s outrageous, you’re dead. Somebody ought to come and haul you off.”

Ursula K. LeGuin attacked some points about the reading decline in Harper’s this February in satisfying fashion. And perhaps publisher Jonathan Karp took note. He actually hopes, in the Washington Post, for a return to the days when authors had several years to write books, and calls for the industry to publish better ones. Wow. He doesn’t seem to think he’s going out of business any time soon. He has, like, ideas for this. Is this like Don Quixote hunting down the good old chivalric days[3], or that guy in the Jorge Luis Borges story who wants to write Don Quixote from scratch[4]? Or Victor Frankenstein's sigh of relief at the end of every other chapter?[5] Or any reader, having read one story out of Jhumpa Lahiri's latest award-winning collection, looking forward to a happy ending in any of the next?[6] (Or yeah, sorry, you know, like Jerry Maguire and his theses on sports agenthood?)

I choose to think not. Call me quixotic.

Update: the author of, Jessa Crispin, had an interesting reply for Karp.

Happy Independence Day!